How a Mentor Can Help You Become a Better Programmer

Written By Dominic Monn

Mentorship is a crucial part of professional growth and development. However, while it's common practice in some areas of tech—design, management, and executives—to have one or multiple mentors to be a better Software Engineer is much less common.

Mentors are often found on social networks and in company mentorship programs, schools, or specialized mentorship communities. A mentor can introduce a new student, graduate, or professional to the industry, helping the person reach their personal goals, network in the industry, and develop their skill set.

Especially in design and business, mentorships are common practice. They are known to open doors and teach crucial skills, and mentors usually have trade secrets up their sleeves, but software engineering is different—skills often count more than relationships, “trade secrets” don’t really exist, and the skill sets of a programmer are usually well defined and well documented through numerous resources on the internet.

Personally, I’ve been running a mentorship community for the past year now, directly targeted at people in tech. Contrary to popular belief, roughly 75% of our mentorships are formed in the software engineering category. So how can a programmer mentor help you?

Just Learning? A Bit of Inspiration

Getting started in software engineering? Picking up that new piece of tech everyone is talking about? Gaining some new skills crucial for your career? There’s probably no better way to finish that resolution than having a source of motivation.

That might be anything: Possibly you’re taking a class with a big exit exam at the end. Maybe your manager has asked you to look into it—you can’t disappoint them! But in most cases, there is no motivation, and that’s where a mentor can help.

A mentor shouldn’t be mistaken for a teacher. A teacher’s task is to create a syllabus that delivers all essential knowledge to their students. That’s not what a mentor does–they are responsible for making sure that you stay on track and helping you navigate resources.

For example, many of our students in the mentorship program tend to want to learn a new skill. This might be their first programming language or maybe something longer term—finally picking up machine learning, for example.

In this case, a programming mentor who has already studied machine learning can be an incredible resource when it comes to finding the best courses, books, sites, and projects. Instead of having to figure everything out from scratch, you’re getting a competitive advantage by getting the landscape of resources laid out for you.

Even a professional mentor, hired through a mentorship site, isn’t going to create a custom syllabus for you. However, often they were in the same shoes as you, they know the challenges and resources, and they will keep you accountable while making sure you don’t hit any major roadblocks in reaching your goals, such as becoming unmotivated or losing sight of your big goal.

Not only that, but by laying out your own goals, you’re motivated to working toward your goals at all times. By having someone to report to, you are putting pressure on yourself to make progress, which is a great way of not losing sight of your goals.

Especially if you have issues finishing what you have started, as many people do, opening up about your goals to someone you can report to and that checks in on you, such as a mentor, can be the last bit of motivation you need to learn new skills and better yourself.

A Guide for Navigating Resources

The internet is full of the newest resources and tutorials about virtually every piece of technology or programming language out there. Courses often vary in price, quality, and style, which makes it incredibly difficult and time-consuming to navigate the landscape.

Having a programming mentor who has navigated through all these resources before makes it easy to have someone to lead the way for you and makes it easy to find a resource quickly.

Even if you’re not specifically looking for a single resource, a mentor can show you the way they went to acquire a new skill or simply make you aware of some difficulties they faced, as they try to do the same thing as you.

Many of our own mentors are coming from popular online schools and are mentoring new students. Not only is having a mentor a great way to stay accountable, but as someone who has gone through a lot of learning resources and content before, these mentors often have valuable insights into crucial material and difficult sections.

In any case, teaming up with someone who can guide you and who can give you crucial insights into something—be it learning a new skill, starting a new career, or launching a project—will always make your own life easier. It will also give you a competitive edge when compared to others doing the same without help. If you’re just getting started, doing so with a mentor can be a good plan.

A Point of Contact in the Industry

If you are beyond learning a new skill and into your career, like finding your first internship out of college, changing careers, or reaching out for a promotion, it especially could make sense to consider finding a programming mentor, as mentors are often experts and well-connected in the industry.

As industry experts, they usually know what kind of programming languages and skills to learn to stay competitive. Beyond that, they most likely know how one should prepare for upcoming interviews, what to expect, and how to negotiate.

When we started our mentorship community, one of the quotes that stuck with me was by Jess Telford: “You’re giving them access to experts who can help them on that journey, guide their missteps, bounce ideas off, and be a consistency when other things might be changing around them!” That’s exactly what a mentor should be: a guide on your journey, someone to help you avoid and fix missteps, and a consistency that you can always count on.

If you are looking to just get into tech, a mentor can also help you with gaining your own industry contacts, referring you to employers and partners, and giving you that small competitive edge you might need on your way to your dream position.

Beneficial for Everyone Involved

Mentoring others is not a one-way street. Everyone benefits from being a mentor or getting mentored.

Since our start, we’ve gotten over 500 applications from mentors, and over 50% of applicants said that they want to mentor because they’ve been mentored in their past, to give back to the community.

Mentorship is a relationship that benefits and shapes everyone involved. Not only do mentees profit from an industry expert, but mentors—especially the ones who have been in the industry for a while—are forced to brush up on the basics again, get challenged in their views, and extend their skillset.

Not only that, but employers love teaching abilities in their employees and candidates. It’s a sign that somebody thoroughly understands a concept and can teach it to others. Great if a company is investing in junior employees, too!

Having a Mentor Is Really Worth It

Given all these great reasons, I really believe that more programmers should look for a mentor if they’d like to continuously grow and develop themselves and their career.

As the founder of my mentorship community, I have now seen over 500 mentorships happen, and in many cases, the mentee has grown their skills and developed as a person and a professional, and so did their mentor.

There’s a reason why mentors often volunteer or discount their time when doing mentorships: It’s a beneficial relationship for everyone involved. In more than one case, we’ve even heard from employers about an employee’s growth since doing a mentorship—it’s really worth it!